Toronto Film Fest: Tsui Hark?s ?Seven Swords? starring Donnie Yen

Tsui Hark's latest martial arts epic has some story problems, but there's still enough to like. The general storyline involves seven swordsmen in the early Qing Dynasty who try to protect a village from being slaughtered by the royal court that outlawed the practice of martial arts. If the film had just stuck to that simple story, it would have probably been a much better movie. Instead, there are two or three love triangles (as if one wasn't enough) and a bunch of extraneous subplots. Hark also goes overboard with the melodrama, resulting in a whole lot of cheese. More cheese than a couple American John Woo movies put together.

Often times, the audience would get hammered over the head repeatedly on a certain point. For instance, there's a scene involving a horse named Joy Luck. As a distraction to mislead their pursuers, the villagers send all of their horses on a different track. One of them, Joy Luck, is a favorite of one of the swordsmen. To hammer this relationship across, Hark shows the swordsman leading the horse away. He then hides in the bushes so that the horse wouldn't find him and eventually be on its way. As he watches the horse leave, he gets teary eyed. Dramatic music comes on. He and another swordsmen's noses start running, and they start bawling. Drama music gets louder. One of the swordsman start to scream out to his horse: "Joy Luck! Joy Luck! I will never forget you!" The two grown swordsmen are next shown with teary eyes and runny noses. We get the point. These men love their horses. And they are deeply and profoundly sensitive.

Most of the cheese and heavy-handedness occurs in the second act where the love triangles take place. The first act, which introduces the members of the Seven Swords, has a no nonsense approach. It immerses and engages the audience into this fantastic world with its beautiful cinematography, dazzling production design, and quick, brutal action sequences. The weapons are unique and very cool. The third act is very satisfying. It features a lengthy mano-a-mano between the most skilled member of the seven swords, played by the talented martial arts star Donnie Yen, and the hyena-laughing and eccentric villain. I was ready to give up on the film after the second act, but this sequence saved the film.

There's a good 90 minute film in this 150 minute epic; Hark just needs to lighten up on the cheese and heavy-handedness.

Other Toronto International Film Festival Articles:
? Toronto Film Fest: World Premiere of "The Myth" starring Jackie Chan
? Toronto Film Fest: Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" starring Johnny Depp
? Toronto Film Fest: "Flightplan" with Jodie Foster and "Shopgirl" with Steve Martin
? Toronto Film Fest: "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"

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